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Larry E. Ross, 60, addictions counselor, professor

Larry E. Ross

Larry E. Ross

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Updated: July 21, 2011 2:18AM

Many of us would like a chance to do as Tom Sawyer did and eavesdrop on our own funeral.

In a sense, Larry E. Ross was able to do just that — and he was overwhelmed at the love and support he heard.

Mr. Ross was battling cancer when he attended a banquet in May in his honor. Almost 400 people came and gave him a standing ovation. Grown men cried and called him a father figure. Others credited him with helping to free them from drug and alcohol addiction, or for getting them on track in college and their careers.

“I asked everybody to close their eyes and to think about the first time they met Larry Ross, to think about where you were in your life,” said Tomika Golden, the organizer of the event. “It was just silent. I said, ‘Now think about where you are today because of him.’ ’’

All around her, people started crying.

There were more people who wanted to thank him than there were minutes in the evening, so many attendees wrote down their thoughts and placed them inside a gold keepsake box.

“When we came home, he sat down in the chair and he took his coat off and he went in the box and he was reading what people said about him,” said his wife, Vicki.

“He sat there and he read all of them,” she said.

It took him two hours to get through all the notes.

Mr. Ross, 60, an addictions counselor and professor at Kennedy-King College, died July 11 at the University of Chicago Medical Center from pneumonia while undergoing cancer treatment.

He went to Chicago’s old Parker High School at 68th and Normal and was working on a loading dock when “He said to himself, ‘My mother didn’t sacrifice for me to do this,’ ” said his brother, Chester King.

Mr. Ross went to Kennedy-King College and became an honors student. He received his bachelor’s degree from Governors State University and a master’s in social work from Aurora University.

He wound up developing Kennedy-King’s program of Addictions Studies and Social Work, said Carolyn A. Brown, chair of the school’s Human Services Department.

His open-door policy made him a favorite of students. Colleagues accompanied him down Kennedy-King’s halls at their peril.

“We could never arrive at our destination on time,” Brown said. “He’d talk to students. He’d talk to professional staff, to the maintenance staff. They were all stopping him.”

Some took to greeting him with, “Hello, Father-To-Them-All.”

Russha Harris was one of them. She was over 30 when she decided to go to college.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “He asked me, ‘Have you thought of social work?’ ”

Today, she is studying for her master’s in social work at Governor’s State.

Students respected him because there was “no sugarcoating. No grading on the curve. He wanted us to know this business,” Harris said.

“He would always teach us to help the client heal the underlying problem, because addiction is not the problem,” Harris said. “The addiction is the response to the problem.”

Mitzi Scott once struggled with heroin and cocaine abuse. She credits Mr. Ross’ mentoring with helping her to become a substance-abuse counselor.

He told her: “ ‘You have to quit looking at other people and wondering why they do what they do. Most people don’t change. You have to ask yourself: What it is that I need to do?’ ”

“He also taught me to love me,” Scott said. “He said to me, ‘No, Mitzi, don’t change.’ You continue to get better, but who you are is alright.’ ’’

Social work has a high burnout rate, so Mr. Ross taught his students to use meditation and nutrition to keep from losing themselves in other people’s problems.

“He was the most peaceful person,” Harris said. “I have never seen him unglued.”

His wife agreed: “Whenever you picked up the phone and asked how he was, he would always say, ‘I’m peaceful,’ ” she said.

Mr. Ross enjoyed plays at the Black Ensemble Theater. He never missed a chance to see those soldiers of Motown, The Temptations.

He also loved the music of John Coltrane, Patti LaBelle, Keyshia Cole and Maxwell.

Mr. Ross’ other survivors include daughters Kamilah, Tesha Robinson and Toni McKimson; sons Kamil Bowie and Ryan Warner; sisters Angeline Williams, Arnetta Thomas, Colinda Hawthorne, Frances Ross, Geraldine Griffin, Villa Ross and Walterine Ross; brothers Terrance Bowie and Ernest Ross, John Ross and Van Ross; 13 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

His wake is from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at Leak & Sons Funeral Home, 7838 S. Cottage Grove Ave. A celebration of his life will begin at Leak’s at 11 a.m. Saturday. Interment is at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.

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